In modern times, humans have become the primary predator of this species, gathering eggs and killing adults.
Leatherback turtles eggs are consumed by a large variety of predators, including ghost crabs (Ocypode), monitor lizards (Varanus), wading birds such as turnstones (Arenaria), knots (Calidris), and plovers Pluvialis). Many mammals excavate nests as well, including raccoons (Procyon lotor) and coatis (Nasua), dogs (Canis), genets (Genetta), mongooses (Herpestidae) and pigs (Suidae). Most of these same predators will take hatchlings as the little turtles race for the sea, as will raptors (Falconiformes), gulls (Larus), and frigate birds (Fregatidae). In the ocean, small leatherbacks are attacked by cephalopods, requiem sharks (Carcharhinidae) and other large fish. Adult leatherbacks are large and powerful enough to have few predators, but jaguars (Panthera onca) and other large predators may attack nesting females, and killer whales (Orcinus orca) and large sharks may attack them at sea.
Nesting females pack the sand over their clutch of eggs, perhaps to obscure the scent of the eggs and make them harder for small predators to dig up. Hatchlings wait until nightfall to emerge and head for the water, to avoid predators. Throughout their lives leatherbacks are counter-shaded, dark on the dorsal surface and light underneath, to better blend with background light (though the dark dorsal surface is probably also better for basking).
Although they don't have the bony shell of most turtles, they do have a thick layer of connective tissue over bony plates covering much most of their body. Leatherbacks are strong and fast swimmers, and adults may defend themselves aggressively. One adult (c. 1.5 m long) was seen chasing a shark that had apparently attacked it, and once the shark fled, the turtle attacked the boat that the observers were in.
- ghost crabs (Ocypode)
- monitor lizards (Varanus)
- turnstones (Arenaria)
- knots (Calidris)
- plovers Pluvialis)
- raccoons (Procyon lotor)
- coatis (Nasua)
- genets (Genetta)
- dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
- mongooses (Herpestidae)
- pigs (Sus)
- cephalopods (Cephalopoda)
- requiem sharks (Carcharhinidae)
- killer whales (Orcinus orca)
- frigate birds (Fregatidae)
- vultures and hawks (Falconiformes)
- Chiang, M. 2003. The plight of the turtle. Science World, 59: 8.
- Ernst, C., J. Lovich, R. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C., USA: Smithonian Institution Press.